California Stage Theater Company celebrates its 24th season with the professional debut of a very clever and highly amusing lampoon of Italian operas which highlights prima donnas, villas, amore, tradimento and omicidio. Italian Opera is a musical farce where every note is pitch perfect: the play, the performances, the production, the tone, the tempo, the humor and the arias.
Local playwright Leslie Lewinter-Suskind wrote Italian Opera as a graduate student in the late 1990s, and it received an Excellence in Playwriting award in a competition at the University of Oklahoma. However, it’s a mystery why this imaginative parody hasn’t been previously professionally produced.
Italian Opera is a witty, loving and respectful mockery of the quintessential Italian opera—the exaggerated characters and plotlines, the unexplained breaking out in song, the inexplicable addressing of the audience, the melodramatic antics of cheating lovers and the playful sidekick servant with a knowing wink and shrewd asides. The story of two well-to-do couples and a wisecracking maid is presented as an operetta with numerous ingenious references to famous, classical operas—though appreciated even by those with a passing familiarity of the musical art form.
Director Ray Tatar gathers together a talented five-member cast that hits all the right notes, both dramatically and musically, while accompanied by pianist Jane Fanucci. Bringing ace acting and vocal chops are Michael RJ Campbell as the charming and philandering Nemorino; Katherine Cooper as desperate and conniving housewife Lucrezia; Naomi Wilson as the beautiful, barren Vestalina; Jonathan Blum as the clueless and inattentive Mario; and the most hilarious Janet Motenko as the mocking, much-maligned maid Zerbinetta who provides sarcastic asides and exaggerated explanations to the audience.
The beautiful costumes are spot on, and the handsome set ingeniously transforms into two beautiful Italian villas. The result: easily one of the most entertaining and creative shows in recent memory.